2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI Review By Steve Purdy
Volkswagen’s GTI is an icon. It was the first mass market “pocket rocket,” later to be called a “hot hatch,” when the Rabbit GTI hit the scene in 1975 as a hopped-up version of the tiny, boxy, two-door economy car that replaced the venerable Beetle. This newest GTI is very different in many ways but the concept remains the same – a hot little hatchback. And both are very different from the Golf GTI this reporter had in the mid-1980s. It was one of the last cars out of the ill fated, poorly managed Pennsylvania factory and had lots of quality issues, but a wonderful powertrain.
That first GTI had a 1.8-liter engine with first application of mechanical fuel injection. It had a 4-speed manual transmission and was good for a 0-to-60 time of a quick-for-its-day 9 seconds. Today’s Golf GTI sports a high-tech 2.0-liter turbo with twice the horsepower, way more torque, at least a third better fuel economy, lots more room inside and about 6.5 second 0-to-60 time.
For 2015 we get a new, 7th generation GTI on a new, more sophisticated platform, boasting improved horsepower and torque, more space inside, updated styling and more sophistication in just about every category. It comes in two- or four-door variants and three trim levels, including an all-in “Autobahn” model. Our test car is the mid-level SE with automatic transmission in a striking “Tornado Red” (rather like a Ferrari Red with a touch more orange) showing a base price of $28,885. Our only options are a Lighting Package and Driver Assistance Package. With destination charge we’re looking at $31,395 on the sticker’s bottom line. You can have the just-as-quick entry level “S” version with 6-speed manual transmission for $24,785 – a bargain in my view.
While cosmetic and aesthetic updates will not jump out at you the Mexico-built GTI remains flashy and attractive in a Teutonic way. Function is as important as form to the Germans and they integrate them well. A lower hood with more squinty headlight clusters and front fascia with deeper chin and vented cheeks hiding LED fog lights set it apart from the outgoing GTI. Standard 18-inch alloy wheels and tires enhance the aggressive stance. A bright red trim strip crosses directly under the upper grille. Large VW and GTI badges along with red painted brake calipers leave no doubt this one is special.
Inside we find a more roomy and refined space. Control ergonomics are good. Stiffly bolstered front seats fit with the car’s sporty character. The interior materials as well as the design are all first rate. We did not have the navigation system - which has drawn some criticism - in our test car so cannot comment on that. Interior volume increases just a wisp in spite of a lower roof but the space is more effectively used. Cargo volume is up with 16.5 cubic feet to the bottom of the shelf, 22.8 cubic feet to the roof back there and an amazing 52.7 cubic feet with the rear seat backs folded nearly flat. Front seating is generous – rear seating, not so much. But remember, this is a compact car.
Powering the GTI line is a sweet, direct-injected, 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder making 210 horsepower and an impressive 258 pound-feet of torque. You can have either a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed DSG (dual-clutch) automatic (no extra charge for the automatic), both of which make for great gobs of road fun. EPA estimates mileage at 25 mpg in the city, 33 on the highway and 28 mpg combined using premium fuel for this 3,000-pound car. Our experience this week indicates that is a reasonably accurate estimate. We did a fairly long road trip of a bit over 200 miles each way plus a week of driving around a busy resort town for a week.
Three driving modes allow us to select more individual or more performance-oriented shift points, steering feel and suspension tuning. I did not feel a lot of difference when going back and forth but to be fair I was not able to spend much time on challenging roads.
The driving experience with the GTI, as you might guess, is something quite special. Quickness, agility and plenty of feedback make it entertaining to drive in most any environment. Our initial drive was a 200-mile trek beginning with 100 miles of freeway then 100 miles of mostly well-maintained two-lane roads headed for Traverse City. Coming in from the southwest along Supply Road we encountered some rougher roads with sweeping curves. The GTI felt at home on all these surfaces and is surprisingly quiet inside. The thick steering wheel is flat on the bottom and sports paddle shifters to manage the DSG automatic transmission. We experienced some turbo lag but not enough to be disconcerting, in fact, it was barely noticeable when using the paddles. A sweet rev-matching feature accompanies downshifts. Keeping the revs up when driving spiritedly is important, as it is with any turbo-powered or small displacement car. Downshifting with the accelerator turned out to be jerky. We can say the GTI certainly rewards driver participation.
VW’s new car warranty covers the whole car for 3 years or 36,000 miles and the powertrain for 5 years or 60,000 miles.
The IIHS named the Golf a “Top Safety Pick.”
A few little economy cars offer specialty models with performance aspirations but those most comparable, like Focus ST, Civic Si and Subaru WRX, are different in execution. Those three, for example are hot little sedans. I can’t think of a “hot hatch” quite like the GTI, at least on this side of the Atlantic.
It get’s a good solid “A” in my book for “Astounding.”
Go take a test drive. I’ll bet you’ll like it.
©Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved
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